What are "Modern Board Games"?
The last decade or so has seen a huge revival in the popularity of board and card games, and more are being designed and published than at other any time in the previous forty years. A new style of game is driving this resurgence forward, and its birthplace is continental Europe, most especially Germany. Why Germany? Well, the Germans have a strong tradition of playing family boardgames - so strong, in fact, that outside of Germany these kinds of games are sometimes known as "German-style games". However, it's not a terribly catchy name, and the growing number of non-German publishers makes it an increasingly questionable one, so alternates have come about, such as "Eurogames", which is the name we will use here.
The Germans themselves tend to refer to these games as "Designer" or "Authored" games, because, just like a book has its author's name on the cover, and unlike all of the well-known family games we're used to playing in the UK, the person responsible for the design of the game has their name on the front cover. This can help you decide if you're likely to find a game to your taste before you play it, since designers, like writers, tend to have a particular style. Some designers emphasise lightness and fun over long-term strategy, for example; some like to reduce the element of luck as far as possible; some want to tie the way the game works closely to the theme; still others produce more abstract designs. Whatever the case, there's now a huge number of games designers out there, meaning there's a game to suit pretty much everyone.
One thing to be clear about: in the main, these aren't the kind of "party" or so-called "adult" games that you'll find in many of the big high-street stores: there's typically no drawing pictures, doing charades, or general knowledge questions - fun though those things can be, that's not the focus of this kind of game.
Having said what Eurogames generally aren't, there's actually still some debate amongst regular game-players about what makes a "Eurogame" a "Eurogame". As mentioned above, these days many of them are being designed and published outside Europe. However, there are a number of things that most "Eurogames" have in common:
Wide-ranging themes: Building a medieval city; painting the ceiling of a cathedral; making beer; conniving to gain power at the court of Louis XIV of France; searching for pirate gold; colonising a fantasy island; escaping the Black Death in the Middle Ages; guiding an Egyptian dynasty through trials and tribulations; exploring the Pacific Ocean with a Polynesian tribe; hurtling through an asteroid field in a spaceship; selling silks and rare spices in a middle-eastern souk...all of these have had games created about them in the last few years. The theme usually relates to aspects of the game-play - what're sometimes known as the "mechanics" - but these games aren't detailed simulations: the accent is firmly on fun and social interaction, so you won't find yourself having to consult pages of cross-referenced tables and charts to determine the outcome of your move. Which leads us to...
Low to medium complexity: Despite this remarkable range of themes covering many complex subjects, the games themselves are typically not complex - they are usually suitable for people aged 8-10 upwards, and the rules are clearly laid out, with helpful examples of situations you might encounter while playing, so even novices will find them easy to learn. Of course, if you have someone who knows the game teach it to you, it's even easier to learn...fortunately, the regulars at MAB know lots of games, and are very happy to teach them to new players. To help you decide which games would be suitable for you and those you're playing with, the recommended player age, number of players, and typical duration are always shown somewhere on a game box, as you can see from the example in our picture.
Fixed playing times of around an hour: Unlike Monopoly, and some other widely-known games like Risk, which can go on for several hours with no certainty about when they will end, these games are designed to have clear and predictable end-points. For example, a four-player game of "Eight Minute Empire" ends when all players have picked up 8 cards; a game of "Taj Mahal" ends when players have "visited" all the regions of India depicted on the board; "Kingsburg" ends after the monster horde has attacked the kingdom five times; and so on. The playing times are shown on the box, so you can easily choose a game which will fit in to the time you have available. Although many of the games are completed at around the one-hour mark, they do vary, and can range anywhere between fifteen minutes up to a couple of hours - and for those looking for a very deep strategic challenge, a few stretch to even longer than that!
Everyone plays to the end: Again in contrast to many traditional games like Monopoly, players don't get eliminated, and the games are deliberately designed to keep the competition close, so it's extremely rare for someone to pull significantly ahead of the other players until the very end of the game. This keeps everyone interested throughout.
A bit of luck: You might expect someone experienced at a particular game to be in with a better chance of winning, and you'd be absolutely right...but there's an element of carefully balanced luck designed into the vast majority of Eurogames that can help someone less experienced seize victory, as long as they recognise and take advantage of their good fortune when it comes.
Parallel to this European "new wave", and partly encouraged by it, games designers outside of Europe have also become more prolific. Many non-European designers have followed the "Eurogames" model, but there are also a significant number of games, mostly originating in the US, which emphasise theme and immersiveness over the careful balance and streamlined rules that Eurogame designs tend to strive for. These games - often referred to as "Thematic Games", to highlight their strong focus on theme - can be long and involved affairs, often with an element of role-play, and/or detailed rules which are intended to provide a closer simulation of the theme of the game. Whatever you call them, though, for those who want a more in-depth and complex experience, they are ideal.
Where are these games sold?
Lots of places! Locally, Steve's Collectables in Gravesend offers a selection of board and card games, and the Playopolis board game cafe in Rochester also has a good range (additionally, as it's a board game cafe, you can try before you buy). Outside of the Medway/Maidstone area, there are bricks-and-mortar games shops up and down the UK: probably the best known in the London area is Leisure Games, in Finchley, but there are many others - this web site has some ideas. Online, big retailers such as Amazon have the most popular titles, and there's a number of smaller independent retailers like Chaos Cards. Games Lore and BoardGameGuru that offer the rarer ones, as well as the more popular fare, often at prices that are lower than Amazon.
Want to know more?
For general information on modern boardgames, you can follow the links below to pages which explain a bit more about these games - and for more on the games we play at MAB, look at our WHAT WE'VE PLAYED reports. Try the BoardGameGeek website, linked from the WELCOME page, too. And if you have specific questions about these games and how they play, please get in touch and we'll do our best to help - see our HOW TO FIND AND CONTACT US page for the relevant details. Of course, if you live in Maidstone or the Medway area, the best thing to do is come along to an MAB meeting, and actually play some games with us! If you can't make Wednesday evenings, we also have occasional weekend meetings - keep an eye on our Facebook group or MEETINGS page - or you might try visiting our friends at Playopolis, the premier boardgame cafe in Kent, who're open every day (except Mondays) offering food, drink, and the opportunity to play games from their extensive library for a small cover charge, a great way to try before you buy. See their Facebook page for more details.
Finally, there are also a number of web series that showcase various modern board games, and show you how they play - two of the best known are "Tabletop", where a group of people get together for a light-hearted play-through of a game, with a short summary rules explanation at the beginning; and "Watch It Played", which, as you might guess, focusses on giving a clear and comprehensive explanation of the rules of a particular game ("Watch it Played" also features separate episodes with play-throughs of some of the games they explain).